We woke up early in the morning, around 6:15. Our pastor had told us about a guy who has a ministry in Addis. He is an American, used to be a pastor at a sister church. He adopted from Ethiopia several years ago. He fell in love with the country and moved his whole family here. He now ministers to the poorest of poor- he lives by what is known as ‘the dump’ in Ethiopia, where outcasts like lepers live- and pastors a church. I had contacted him prior to the trip and we wanted to go to his 8:30 service. We were disappointed to learn that it was over an hour away from where we were staying. I didn’t think my stomach could handle that kind of trip, so we sadly chose not to go.
We didn’t have anything to do until 1:00, when we needed to be at the airport to catch our flight to the village. I had wanted to do some shopping for gifts and our guide Ester offered to go with us. Thank goodness! She took us to a little market that we just loved. It was full of little shops where people were selling their goods. Nothing had prices on it. The locals think all white people are incredibly rich and will take advantage of them, so we were thankful for Ester who helped us negotiate fair prices. We walked away with quite a few nice things.
After that Ester took us to the Sheraton- more on that later. Then we came back to the house where we had several free hours to relax before going to the airport. The ride to the airport was interesting at always; there was bad traffic and I thought we were going to die at least six times. Cars come within millimeters of each other. We made it and boarded a short flight to Mekele.
Mekele is in northern Ethiopia. At 500,000 it’s not exactly a small city, but there are many small villages around it. The plane bothered my stomach again. I thought I survived but guess what happened at the end? I barfed again! Not sure what is going on, I feel fine most of the time but have been more sensitive to motion sickness than ever before. So that’s 2 times in 2 days, hopefully this pattern ends soon.
We descended the steps from the plane and walked into the small airport. We waited by the conveyer belt at the single baggage claim, but it never came on. Instead a guy pushed a cart back and forth between the airport and the plane, delivering the bags a few at a time. We walked out and found our driver. We thought we were going to the hotel for a low-key night, so were surprised when he told us the birth mom was at the orphanage and we were going to meet her now!
We were not really emotionally prepared for that, but it was nice to not have time to get nervous about it. We arrived at the orphanage and entered through the heavy gate. We got a tour first. The name of the orphanage is Family Umbrella Association and our kids were here for a year. The gates opened up to a courtyard area with rooms opening to it. There wasn’t much to it- a minuscule kitchen, a dirty bathroom, a boys sleeping room, a girls sleeping room, and one room each for big kids, toddlers, and babies. There were signs with our names welcoming us.
This was the first time we had ever been to an orphanage and we weren’t sure what to expect. I’ll be honest: It sucked. I believe it is a good orphanage. The kids are well-fed, taken care of, and loved. But kids don’t belong in orphanages. Looking at their smiling innocent faces I just wanted to bring each and every one of them back with me. They didn’t do anything to deserve this life. Luckily, nearly all of them at this orphanage had already been placed with families.
We said hi to some big kids, who were playing by themselves in a concrete room with tables. The kids were happy and eager to say hi to us, but we couldn’t communicate with them well (I guess that’s a sign of things to come). We saw where they sleep. Concrete rooms with metal bunk beds. Disney stickers on the wall.
As we were walking to the next room, our guide introduced the birth mother. What an emotional moment! I immediately started crying to the point I could barely say hi. I hugged her tightly and gave her a photo book we made for her. She looked at the pictures of the kids longingly and kissed them. Then we left her to continue our tour.
We saw the toddler room. The kids were soooo sweet; I wanted to kiss and hug them all. One of them put his hand up as if to give me a high five. I tried to return it but as soon as I raised my hand he got a look of terror, screamed, and ran away!
Next was the baby room. This room was stuffy and lined with cribs, maybe about 8 total, with 2 babies in some cribs. The cribs were covered with nets to keep out flies and mosquitoes. There were two nannies in this room that you could tell really loved the kids. But as we stayed here, I knew it was no replacement for the love and security a family provides. We heard the babies’ stories. Many were abandoned. If the mother is found after a baby is abandoned, she goes to jail. Some of the mothers died during or shortly after birth. One mother committed suicide shortly after giving birth. All of the babies were just beautiful. Some were as young as a few weeks old. This room really depressed me. The older kids and toddlers could play and have fun- you didn’t outwardly see the emotional scars that come with living in an orphanage. The babies, though obviously loved and well taken care of, were just sad. My American mind noted that the babies were put in cribs with bottles and blankets, big no nos in my culture. I picked up a sweet three month old that could barely hold up his head. We spent quite a long time in the baby room and again, I found myself just wanting to bring each and every one home.
Then it was time to talk with the birth mom. We sat in an office with her and went through some questions. Why did she choose their names? What are her favorite things? (A fellow adoptive parent recommended this question so we can tell the kids about her) What do the kids like to do? (Apparently the have mad sheep herding skills). We showed her pictures of the kids’ future school and ensured her they would get a great education, plenty of food, good medical care, and lots and lots and lots of love. I cried on and off throughout the talk as I tried to imagine what it would be like in her shoes.
It was a very special moment but honestly a little awkward. Speaking through a translator is always a bit odd. You can tell the birth mom has had a very tough life. It shows on her face- we guessed her at about 10-15 years older than she actually is. She is very, very quiet and shy. She answered most of our questions in just a couple soft-spoken words. We got some pictures (which I think are best kept private from the online world, sorry) and finished the conversation. Overall it was very tough, very emotional, and very depressing. We’re here because I believe in adoption and believe in redemption. But in those moments I couldn’t help but feel the weight of the world with her. I realized that despite my happy little bubble I live in, this world really really really sucks for a lot of people.
We went back to the courtyard area where a coffee ceremony and feast had been prepared. This was also a little awkward as we sat on one side of the courtyard with the orphanage director as the birth mom and an aunt sat on the other side.
We chatted with the director about the orphanage and his life, viewed some pictures of the kids we hadn’t seen before, and eventually called it a night. We went over to hug the birth mom once more, possibly the hardest moment we’ve experienced so far.
Then the director walked us over to our hotel. Interestingly, the name of the hotel is the same as our daughter’s name. The hotel was much nicer than our expectations. It was a little after 7pm when we got here. The husband was happy because it has a fridge stocked with beer. We relaxed and prepared for our exciting day tomorrow!
Tomorrow (which will be 11.18, this post is delayed) we hang out at this orphanage in the morning before flying back to Addis at 2. Then we meet our kids!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!